The Hidden Ingredients That Chefs Swear By And That You Should Too

Posted on Wednesday, 2nd February 2022

Most of our attempts to replicate our favorite restaurant dishes end in disappointment due to hidden flavor profiles that we just put our fingers on. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it’s the reason why so many of us keep on eating out at expensive restaurants time and again. Luckily, it doesn’t need to be the mystery you expect. After all, professional chefs are only human, and there’s no magic involved in making a good dish great. There are, however, some hidden ingredients that you’d never notice, but that can make a huge difference to taste experiences overall.

It’s these extra kicks of depth-based flavor that make all the difference to the eating experience, and it’s these that you’re going to want to incorporate at home if your replicas are ever going to come close. Of course, it doesn’t take much digging to realize that many of these are secrets that each chef intends to take to their grave. But, there are some better-known hidden chef go-to’s that you can easily incorporate into your dishes, and we’re going to consider them here.

Sugar

While you might not think of putting sugar into your savory dishes, this is perhaps the simplest and oldest trick in the cooking book, and it can make a huge difference in both slightly sweet and sticky recipes like this wing seasoning, and in acidic dishes that completely cover evident sweetness with a blend of flavors. For the most part, of course, we aren’t talking about putting cake-like amounts of sugar into your tomato soup, but a sprinkle of sugar to take the sharpness of tomatoes away, or to complement otherwise strong spices like cumin, is guaranteed to make a difference. As such, you could always benefit from keeping sugar to hand while cooking dishes like these, especially if you treat it as you do the rest of your seasoning and add what you need by taste until you get that balance just right.

Anchovies

Generally speaking, when chefs talk about umami, they do so to refer to a depth of richness that is most often achieved with the help of underlying (and thus secret) ingredients including fish-based options like anchovies. Fresh anchovies, in particular, form a surprisingly effective, and largely unidentifiable base, for dishes that include soups and sauces that we’d never assume them to be hiding in, but to which they add a wonderful layered flavor profile. If you don’t fancy handling the fresh stuff, it’s also now possible to buy both Worcester sauce and fish sauces at most food stores which will contain an anchovy base, and which can work wonders either added as a background flavor to your sauces or splashed liberally on the skin of your fresh meats before cooking.

Fat of all kinds

While modern cooking seems to shy away from fat, chefs would urge anyone to think twice before ditching this cooking must. In fact, while many home-cooks now attempt to limit the content of fats like sunflower oil, or even fry things in water, chefs still use these ingredients liberally to add flavor. And, we have to say that it works. Of course, this isn’t to say that your food needs to be dripping in fat like the dishes at your favorite fast food joint, but a healthy glug of oil (around two tablespoons) is a reasonable enough amount to do little damage, and still make a huge impact when it comes to the dishes you’re able to create. Pasta or salads can especially benefit from a little extra olive oil, while your curries are guaranteed to get a whole lot more professional if you include a healthy portion of ghee, a type of clarified butter that few Indian chefs would be without.

Harissa

While traditionally used in Tunisian cuisine, chefs across the world now keep harissa as a go-to solution for making their dishes tastier. Consisting mainly of chilies, garlic, oil, and citrus notes, harissa is a simple way to add both depth and a much-needed kick to all manner of modern dishes including pasta sauces, marinades, and even burgers. Luckily, its popularity means that it’s now available to buy in most stores, while you can also make your own at home with relatively little hassle, and provide that kick that you’ve been struggling to get into your restaurant replications until now.

These may be the worst-kept secrets in the professional chef’s kitchen right now, but they’re sure to become closely guarded discoveries once you bring them into your kitchen.

This is a collaborative post.

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